Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dark Horse - Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick is turning into one of my favourite YA fantasy authors. His output is astonishingly diverse, in terms of settings for his novels. Dark Horse, for example, is often harsh and unflinching. The story plunges the reader into a pivotal moment in the life of a small, apparently Nordic tribe, called the Storn, who are largely isolated from other peoples except through its irregular contact with itinerant traders. Rumors of a vicious, horse-riding people, known as the Dark Horse, are troubling the Storn's lonely lifestyle, and the appearance of a strange man with white hair and black palms brings death into their closed society. Sedgwick creates rounded and complex characters who are weak and strong, venial and high-minded. He weaves a double tale - a third-person narrative that is set in the story's present, when the violence and disruption of the Storn's life are first imminent and then present, and then a series of first-person flashbacks recounted by 16 year old Sigurd, the tale's protagonist. He begins his account several years earlier, explaining how he comes to have an adopted sister, named Mouse, from an unknown people, who has the ability to communicate with animals, then moving forward from there until both narrations coincide in time.

Mouse's identity becomes central to the novel's events and even explains the marauding of the Dark Horse. Sedgwick employs a lean narrative voice and writes in short chapters that encourage the reader to keep turning the pages, and he draws the reader along, allowing them to make sense of the unexplained connections, to puzzle out the characters' motivations, to decide who is a hero and who is a villain. Sedgwick does not make any concessions to moralising or romanticising, regarding the harsh life of the Storn, but this tale is rich, involving, and lively.

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